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Chinese characters book

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Could anyone recommend on a good book in English where the Chinese characters are explained by their original meaning (child + woman = good. Big + sheep = beautiful) ? I would need one with both the traditional and simplified forms, preferably with more than 2000 characters explained. Could I order it through Amazon? Thanks in advance for your guidance.

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Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary and Cheng & Tsui Chinese Character Dictionary are two possibilities.

In mainland China all dictionaries and textbooks use simplified characters, but the traditional ones are often shown for reference. I don't know if the reverse is true elsewhere.

Are you hoping to learn to write Chinese, or just looking for a nice book to read?


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"Understanding Chinese Characters: A Beginner's Guide to the Chinese Language" by Edoardo Fazzioli is a quite nice book i have. It contains 214 diferent signs which are explained each on one page.

1. How to draw it step by step

2. Historical development: (9 different writings: from 861 BC till today)

3. Historical explanation, explaination of the graphical meaning and development.

4. What this sign can mean in addition to another sign (f.ex: heart + law = psychology or heart + slave = passion which ties the heart up ;))

Its written by an Italian and his Chinese woman, released 1986.

Its not to learn the signs by heart but its a good book to understand more of the Chinese language, how it works and more about the history.

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Thanks for the recommendations, guys. I started learning Mandarin at the university here in Mexico a few months ago but since I have been and will be missing a lot of classes due to my work, I need a good reference book on characters to study at home. Of course, I want to learn how to understand and write the characters properly. The teacher is from mainland China but he has told us to try to have an idea of how the "classical" characters look like since most of the chinese communities outside the Popular Republic use them.

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It's definitly a good idea to be familiar with traditional characters. My first teacher ever was from the mainland and didn't expose us to traditional styles at all.

I can't recommend a good book, however, if you're concerned with stroke order, there are rules you can follow which can ensure you're stroke order will be basically correct without memorizing the stroke orders exactly. After awhile, writing Chinese this way will start to feel natural and you won't think about stroke order so much any more.

Many people find traditional characters easier to learn because the "story" behind the character is better preserved. I like the simplified system because I find the phonetic component helpful to me in remembering the words. When you're just starting off with writing, you should probably focus on one system. The class I am in now, for instance, requires us to be able to read both systems, but write only one. I think this is a sensible approach. Very few people can read and write both traditional and simplified.

Good luck :)

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A very good book is: "Reading and Writing Chinese" by William McNaughton and Li Ying (ISBN 0-8048-3206-4) (1999) and published by Tuttle.

This shows how to write a basic 1,062 characters and in many cases explanations of their derivations. It also gives examples of their use in compound words. Although the focus is on traditional characters (with pinyin romanization), the simplified versions are also shown.

An additional 900 or so characters are also given, along with examples of their usage in compound words but without the writing chart.

There is an earlier edition by William McNaughton but this uses a different form of romanization - Yale, if I recall correctly. The newer edition is larger and has clearer calligraphy.


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